Interviews, Issue 14 June 2013

Conversations with a Papers author

Recently I spoke with Dr. Steven Shirey, an avid Papers user and a senior staff scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington D.C. I was curious to hear how Papers has been woven into Steven’s workflow and how he uses it in his day to day activities. Like many Papers users, he started using it after hearing about it from a colleague about five years ago. This also makes Steven one of Papers’ early adopters.

“Since finding out about Papers, I have told a number of other techno-geeks and Apple fan boys”, Steven said during our conversation. When asked what he finds most useful about the program, Steven went right to one of the main ideas behind Papers: “I like that is gives me a central repository for my articles. When someone asks me if I have seen a particular paper I do not even look at it before putting it into Papers and getting all the meta data in there as well”.

This brought up the topic of meta data, and we commiserated about the issues of missing or poor meta data sometimes provided by the search engines. “If I can’t get my meta data to work it is really annoying”, Steven said with a laugh. His pro tip to get it right? Going to the HTML version on the website where the article is hosted by the publisher, and using the export citation link. Papers then asks if you would like to use the citation file to update the meta data. “It works perfectly every time!”

In addition to his research, Dr. Shirey provides a monthly systematic review of the literature for the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), which also requires him to stay on top of all new publications. He keeps a record of each digest he produces as a manual collection, and further organizes within these by colour coding the entries in his library. In addition to dedicated collections for each monthly digest, Steven keeps topical collections based on regional geological terranes and geological concepts. These collections help him stay organized, and keep his growing library of references easy to navigate. He admits that he has not used the smart collections feature quite as much as the manual collections.

As a geologist, field work requires him to take relevant information on the road, such as on a recent field trip to the Sudbury Intrusive Complex, Ontario, Canada. Articles can easily be pulled up on an iPad with Papers for iOS for reference in the field, “I am deleting my music collection from my iPad to make more space for articles.” Similarly, when at conferences or attending seminars he can pull up references and use them when discussing the topics at hand.

Dr. Shirey reminded me again how intertwined the connection between scientific literature is with the day to day activities of a scientist or at least should be. From the field or the bench, to the classroom, seminar room, conferences, and of course when writing manuscripts. Dr. Shirey has about 6000 articles in this Papers library at this time, but has no difficulty finding any of them with a few key strokes. The most interesting, and in my opinion powerful way, he is making use of Papers is for the weekly seminars at the Carnegie Institution. Every week a speaker is invited to give a talk, and visit the institution. There is some time between the end of a talk and the time the speaker meets him at his office. These few minutes are well used to download some of the speaker’s recent articles.

Dr. Shirey reads through them and uses these references to initiate questions with the speaker. “It gives me added information about the talk and makes the talk more memorable. ” During the office visits, he can pull up the most recent article in full screen mode in Papers, and go over the material with his guest. It makes the conversation personal, engaging, and he gets a chance to dive deeper into the topic that was just discussed. “It’s one way to make a speaker feel that their work matters. Besides, then I will have their articles for further reference”.

When researching new topics, opening up several articles in tabs provides a way to quickly browse from one to the next, and compare them. “Having the tabs open works like a temporary collection”, Steven said. He told me about reading on geoneutrinos recently, and having eight different tabs open was incredibly useful. “It is like having the physical articles on your desk and flipping between them,” he added.

“Papers changed my life scientifically,” Steven said, “if you are on top of every important article published in your field, you do a better job at inquiry. When I talk to people about Papers it is really not a question of their style versus mine, if someone is not using Papers it is like someone not using a basic, useful tool like a computer.”

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By Christine Buske, PhD, Marketing Manager Papers

Further information

Dr. Steven Shirey is a geologist interested in learning how the earth’s continents formed. He works at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution of Washington D.C.